Superfood: Spinach Can Now Send Emails

And it could warn us about climate change...

11.02.2021 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

We are living in strange times indeed. Some good news, though — scientist at MIT have taught spinach to send emails and the green goodness could warn us about climate change. 

Using nanotechnology, the scientists have transformed spinach into sensors that are able to detect explosive materials in soil. This super spinach is then able to wirelessly relay this information back to the scientists.

When the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater (a compound often found in explosives like landmines) the carbon nanotubes within the plant’s leaves emit a signal.

 This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists.

According to Euronews, this experiment is part of a wider field of research which involves engineering electronic components and systems into plants. The technology dubbed as “plant nanobionics” is essentially the process of giving plants new capabilities.

“Plants are very good analytical chemists,” Professor Michael Strano who led the research told Euronews.

 “They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves.”

“This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier,” he added.

The experiment actually took place in 2016 and findings were originally published in Nature before going viral on social media last week following the Euronews article.

We must admit that some of the spinach related memes and tweets gave us a few giggles…  

The experiment’s initial purpose was to use plants to detect explosives but Strano and other scientists believe that the technology could be used to help warn researchers about pollution and climate change thanks to the vast amount of environmental data that plants absorb.

“Plants are very environmentally responsive,” Strano says. “They know that there is going to be a drought long before we do. They can detect small changes in the properties of soil and water potential. If we tap into those chemical signalling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.”

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